Vox pop

Issue 114/02, p14, 01.02.2014
What is the biggest challenge in the first five years of your career?
Jennifer Reid, National partnerships officer, National Museums Scotland

“I think one of the biggest challenges is that the prevalence of short-term contracts means that it is difficult to plan your career path in the traditional manner.

Having to approach employment in an opportunistic way means that it can be hard to see the route to the job you want – and how to get on it.

Short-term contracts can be a great opportunity to widen your experience and skills base. But they can also be a barrier to developing a specialism or an in-depth knowledge of an area of museum practice that might enable you to get your dream job.”

Alexandra Woodall, PhD researcher, University of Leicester

“We could probably all list the main challenges within the museum sector: expectations to volunteer and/or pay for an Master’s degree, battling low pay, constant restructures, few permanent contracts, or the uncertainty of a freelance career.

But rather than paint a bleak picture, I think it’s more important to enable each individual entering the profession to do something positive, to have big dreams and aspirations about their future – and I think the key to this lies in developing ways, at the earliest opportunity, to network confidently and surround oneself with supportive (senior) role models and mentors.”

James Etherington, Visitor services team manager, Ashmolean Museum

“In my opinion one of the biggest problems facing people in the first five years of their career in museums is how to break the catch 22 cycle. We’re often told you need on-the-job experience to get the role you want but often it’s impossible to get the experience without already being in the role.

A lot of emphasis seems to be put on encouraging people to do a Master’s degree or get experience via volunteering but this might not be viable options for a lot of people.

And even if it is, it is not always an adequate substitution for the experience of working in a role from the perspective of an employer.”

Lynsey Fairweather, participation coordinator, Thinktank, Birmingham

“It is easy to forget that people, like me, who are in the first five years of their career, have never known a different museum sector. We entered the workplace in the recession and chose a sector we probably knew was going to struggle and face financial challenges.

I think one of the biggest challenges is to keep going despite the drain of negativity and depression that can surround us.

Keeping positive and remembering why we love museums in the first place will be, I fear, a daily struggle for some time to come. The challenge for us in our first five years is to keep our nerve and to not jump ship!”

Charlotte Holmes, museum development officer, Museums Association

Supporting the professional development of over 700 members of the Museums Association is both a privilege and an immense learning experience.

I have seen both emerging and established professionals face huge professional challenges, they are constantly being asked to do more with less, face a prevalence of short term contracts and a shrinking jobs market.

Over the last six years I have been really impressed by how some colleagues have risen to these challenges, establishing mentoring relationships and peer learning opportunities, making the most of networks to develop new skills and contacts, and seeking out innovation from beyond the sector. 

The Moving on Up conference earlier this month was a great opportunity to think about how each one of use can thrive in a challenging operating climate.